The Great White Runway
Will black faces rip the high fashioned runways this season?
As Olympus Fashion Week gets underway in New York the talk of the shows might not be clothes the models are wearing but what skin they’re in.
Articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are focusing in on a lack of racial diversity on the catwalks and in high fashion shows at a time where models of color are making headway in print and TV commercials. The reality TV fashion shows like Project Runway often use black models and America’s Next Top Model (run by supermodel Tyra Banks) has had several black contestants and a Latina who have won the title. On this season’s The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, Dickinson has been accruing a lot of beautiful young Latinos and Latinas for her company.
So why hasn’t the world of high fashion followed suit?
“I’m not pointing a finger and saying people are racist,” said Bethann Hardison said to the New York Times. Ms. Hardison is a former model and owns a successful model agency that promotes diversity. She discovered Tyson Beckford in the 1990s.
Ms. Hardison recounted a recent exchange with the creative director of a major fashion label: “She said to me, ‘I have to be honest with you, when a girl walks in, I just don’t see color.’ Meanwhile, they have one girl, or more likely, none in their show. ‘I don’t see color?’ Does that mean, you don’t want to see?”
Because Ms. Hardison’s has been outspoken on this topic, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFD) has also recently began lobbying designers to hire a wider range of skin tones for this fashion week. According to the Wall Street Journal, CFD’s president Diane Von Furstenburg sent out a letter to modeling agencies, designers, and casting directors that encouraged them to create multicultural fashion shows and to embrace “”whole groups of people no matter their race or color.”
Now everyone is trying to figure out whose responsible for the lack of brown faces on fashion runways. The casting directors blame the designers because if a model doesn’t have a look the designer wants they won’t hire them. The designer blames the modeling agencies for sending out models they say doesn’t meet their look and the modeling agencies say they haven’t been recruiting the ethnic models because they aren’t in demand. The only minority model who is getting a lot of work this fashion season is a 16 year old named Chanel Iman, who is of black and Korean descent.
“Years ago, runways were almost dominated by black girls,” said J. Alexander, a judge on “America’s Next Top Model,” referring to the gorgeous mosaic runway shows staged by Hubert de Givenchy or Yves Saint Laurent in the 1970s. “Now some people are not interested in the vision of the black girl unless they’re doing a jungle theme and they can put her in a grass skirt and diamonds and hand her a spear.” (NYT 10/14/07)
If a designer’s goal is to keep the focus on his clothes shouldn’t he be allowed to choose a model who wouldn’t detract from his vision, ethnically or otherwise? As these pretty clothes hangers glide across the stage many designers may want he audience to go away with how fabulous a piece looked and not remember the girl that was in them. A seasoned fashion agent told NYT that the current taste in taste in models is for blank-featured “androids,” whose looks don’t offer much competition to the clothes.
But with the current swath of white models blanketing the runways many are looking to add more color.
Casting director Jennifer Venditti told the WSJ she was pushing hard for diversity this season. When one of her clients told her they didn’t need to book a black model because they already had one her response was, “”They’re both beautiful. Why can’t you have two?” Venditti also said that the industry will change when racial diversity becomes the latest fashion trend.
Will more brown faces appear on the runways this week? With the political clout of Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama this season it seems as if black is the new black. Perhaps designers will find the trend so hot all of them will want to run out and get one.